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A founder’s vision realised

As Burger Centre approaches its 30th birthday during an international pandemic, its apt to pause for reflection on where Burger Centre has come from.

Born from a group of wise men coming together, they had a vision of establishing a meeting place for that offered more than a meal, more than a bus and grander than the existing meeting place of Wolper Cottage that was located in the grounds of Wolper Jewish Hospital. 

From these discussions, the backing of prominent community members and support from the Wolper Jewish Hospital and many volunteers, the Burger Centre opened its doors in Woollahra in 1991 complete with a gift shop, hair dressing salon, library, bus and a beautiful grand piano. Thirty years later Burger Centre has grown into the heart of the seniors’ community in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and beyond and still homes the original grand piano.

“The establishment of the Burger Centre heralded the move by JewishCare away from purely migrant related issues and into the contemporary needs of the time. It was a turning point for the organisation and the whole community,” says David Lesnie, founding Board Member.

Those involved in the early days of the Burger Centre still speak of the aroma of honey cakes, cheese cakes and kugel that greeted everyone as they arrived to the Centre.  As the needs change of the community change and expanded so has the Burger Centre.

JewishCare’s proud history of striving for best-practice and innovation remains core to its ethos today as Burger Centre continue to provide services to our much-loved community during the COVID-19 challenges with virtual Zoom programming, Call2Connect volunteer phone services and contactless supports.

“The founder’s vision has only been realised thanks to the incredible support and generosity of donors, administrators and our community over the years,” says current Centre Manager, Bronwyn Elbourne.

In fact, it was the foresight, commitment and fabled negotiations of original donors that enabled a block of land to be purchased for Burger Centre in Woollahra, where JewishCare stands today.

“There are some fascinating stories about how the then Board member, Steven Stux, managed to negotiate a very reasonable land price with the government of the day,” says Warren Hurst, JewishCare’s Community and Donor Engagement Manager (and unofficial historian). 

The Board of JewishCare, which included the most prominent leaders at the time, including Rodney Rosenblum, Dr Joachim Schneeweiss AM and David Lesnie, was totally committed to the project and the site was secured in 1989.

Named after one of the major original donors, David ‘Zoli’ Burger AM, the Burger family remain strongly connected to the Centre today. Without the generosity of the Burger family, as well as other community members, Syd Field AM’s dream would never have been realised.

Opened by Norton Whitmont, the then President of JewishCare (previously the Australian Jewish Welfare Society), the Centre then flourished under the Presidency of the much loved and admired, Eva Fischl AM. Eva never missed an opportunity to celebrate special events and was shared a mutual love with the Burger Centre clients.

By the end of the 2000s, Burger Centre’s popularity had surged and outgrown its premises in Woollahra and JCA encouraged JewishCare and Montefiore to become joint owners of the Burger Centre and to move the Centre into a custom-built facility in the Montefiore precinct in Randwick. The new centre, with an expanded and improved range of activities and facilities, opened in 2007. 

Today, The Burger Centre is a vital resource that will serve the community for many years to come. With professional and friendly staff, a dedicated volunteer community and a vast array of activities, Burger Centre is perfect for people wanting to meet new people, remain active and be connected to the community, as well as for carers wanting safe and inclusive respite programs that offers purpose, enjoyment and a sense of belonging with culture and Yiddishkeit.

Our clients enjoy Russian speaking programs, excursions, aqua exercise, art classes and can take advantage of Montefiore’s onsite Hair and Beauty Salon, Café, luxury cinema and dental clinic, plus so much more.

We invite you to visit when lockdown is over to see our spacious, accessible and sunlit spaces and enjoy a tour of the campus. We hope to hold a community celebration post lockdown. Please see the website for updated information – or call 02 8345 9147.